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updated: 8/7/2012 8:29 AM

Editorial: A road map to transparency

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

When Lombard Village Trustee Peter Breen was elected in April 2011, he made transparency in village government a priority. It's no wonder then that Lombard now is a model for the rest of the state.

Only when our government leaders emphasize the importance of transparency in all they do will taxpayers truly benefit. It's simple really. Does it take time and some money? Yes it does. A little. But it's such an important concept that it's worth the effort.

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So, we applaud Lombard, which scored 100 percent last week in the latest audit conducted by the Illinois Policy Institute in its ongoing "Local Transparency Project." Lombard joins Kane County and the village of Orland Park as the only local governments to reach that plateau since the project began in February 2010. More than 160 local governments (municipalities, school districts, townships, counties, fire protection districts, park districts) have been audited, most from the Chicago area.

"We really hope this project compels our governments to help citizens understand where their dollars are being spent," Brian Costin, the institute's director of government reform, said in a report last week by staff writer Justin Kmitch. "We like it to be really easy for citizens to find. If you have documents, they should be no more than a few clicks from the homepage, not buried in a PDF report 30 clicks in."

The institute lays out how to achieve a high score very easily and works with local governments to improve their scores before they are announced. Yet in last week's report, only 13 of the 22 local governments audited received passing grades.

That's shameful. It's time for someone in authority to understand that transparency in government is a must-have, not an option.

Who needs to work on this? Most recently, the failing grades went to Butler Elementary District 53, Glenbard High School District 87, Hinsdale High School District 86, Salt Creek Elementary District 48, York Township and the towns of Glen Ellyn, Oakbrook Terrace and Villa Park.

Kmitch talked to officials in Oakbrook Terrace and District 87 who said they will work to improve their websites. It's unfortunate, however, that even the simplest thing, a phone number for every elected official, is not available on either website. District 87 board members don't have a specific email address either.

There are many models for agencies lacking in transparency to emulate. Those that scored 90 percent or better include Elmhurst Unit District 205, Hanover Township, Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 and Will County.

"We have an obligation to communicate the management of this district to the community that supports us," said District 205 Superintendent Dave Pruneau.

That should be the mantra of all local governments.

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